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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fiscal Pressures, the Great Recession, and Monetary Sanctions in Washington Courts of Limited Jurisdiction


Many municipal governments have come to depend heavily on fines and fees generated by the criminal justice system.  This essay uses data from all courts of limited jurisdiction (municipal and district courts) in Washington State between 2000 and 2014 to evaluate the relationships between local government finances, the Great Recession, and the imposition of debt through the criminal justice system.  I find that municipalities issued more criminal justice debt during and after the recession across Washington, but that government finances as measured by tax receipts and expenditures per capita were weakly related to sentencing practices.  These findings suggest that macroeconomic fiscal pressures may be drivers of enforcement and prosecutorial practices through increasing case volumes, but that macroeconomic pressures and local fiscal pressures did not appear to shift court sentencing practices in Washington during the Great Recession.

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